a) A healthier way than tobacco to satisfy an addiction and /or an oral fixation?
b) A helpful step toward quitting smoking, like nicotine patches?
c) The latest point of entry for cigarette companies to hook teenagers on smoking?
It just might be they’re d) all of the above.
A relatively new product, e-cigarettes are devices that can be held like cigarettes. They create a vapor by heating a liquid nicotine solution, meaning users can mouth them, suck on them and inhale the “smoke” they produce, just like cigarettes. So they provide some of the habitual characteristics of smoking, which can mean a lot to someone trying to quit tobacco. Further, they retain the nicotine kick — and addiction — cigarettes provide.
That could make them an ideal way to transition from smoking cigarettes to eventually doing without, in the process eliminating the health impacts of inhaling the tars, glues and other harmful elements in the smoke of tobacco rolled in paper. But according to the N.H. Comprehensive Cancer Collaboration and the Norris Cotton Cancer Center at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, nicotine itself is still harmful, and e-cigarettes may enable the vapors to be inhaled more deeply than cigarette smoke is.
The Food and Drug Administration Thursday proposed adding e-cigarettes — along with “cigars, pipe tobacco, nicotine gels, waterpipe (or hookah) tobacco, and dissolvables” — to the tobacco-related substances it regulates.
As the cancer collaboration notes: “Because e-cigarettes, e-Hookah, and vaporizers are completely unregulated by any agency, their safety and effectiveness has not been tested.”
That alone is a strong argument for the FDA to step in. But there’s much more. Let’s start with advertising. Tobacco ads have been banned from TV for decades, but recently, ads have begun showing up promoting the “coolness” and “freedom” of e-cigarettes — including some that indicate the user is tired of being told what to do. Any question who that’s meant to appeal to?
Beyond the advertising aspect, e-cigarettes can be made to look or taste like pretty much anything. They’re not as harsh as tobacco and the related hookah pens often feature a liquid solution that’s flavored, and come in designs meant to attract teens.
Anti-smoking advocates worry about two issues: The first is that smokers will use e-cigarettes in places where smoking is banned, but will continue to smoke elsewhere, rendering useless any benefits from switching. The second is that people who don’t smoke will take up e-cigarette “vaping” and move on to smoking if they become addicted to nicotine.
We further agree with the FDA and the cancer collaboration that allowing e-cigarettes to remain unregulated means the contents — what’s in the solution and in what concentration — as well as the manufacturing of the devices themselves will adhere to no standard.
E-cigarettes can be a useful tool for smoking cessation. For those who can’t break the inhalation habit, they may be less harmful than traditional tobacco cigarettes. But too little is known about their addictive qualities and effects on health for them to remain unregulated until the scientific evidence is clearer.